Stray phrases are sometimes more revealing than central points. Lynn Garafola in her intemperate review of my book calls me a ‘self-proclaimed leftist’. What she means is that I have not been licensed by her circles that deliver the official proclamations. She is incensed because I lack respect for their rituals and successes like New Yorker notice. In her list of public intellectuals I have failed to acknowledge, she includes October editor Rosalind Krauss, ‘an art critic so well-known that a New Yorker profile (on someone else) opened with a description of her living room’. I like that, but I’m a little puzzled by the reasoning. Is it Krauss’s living room that makes her a public intellectual? Or Janet Malcolm’s description of it in the New Yorker? Or both?
Garafola, a self-proclaimed critic, tries to deck me with an argument and her personal Roladex. She believes that history is a one-way street of progress and revolution. Anyone who reflects on what might be lost is guilty of romanticism and nostalgia; I want to ‘turn back the clock’ while she embraces a glorious future. She has learned that material conditions determine cultural life. To reflect on possibilities and pressures is to blame the victim. Might (aging) new left professors be wanting in some respect? They are victims of older intellectuals and a hostile world. The abattoir of history is an American campus; the victims are university professors. Their plight is tragic; their efforts heroic.
I stated in my preface: ‘My friends, generation, and self are not the heroes—or victims. I prize a younger left intelligentsia that I believe has surrendered too much. I take as a measuring rod an older generation of intellectuals whose work I often criticize’ (pp. xii–xiii). This inflames many reviewers who require unadulterated praise or condemnation. What? Younger intellectuals are not heroes? And older intellectuals have estimable qualities? Garafola writes that I want ‘an intelligentsia in the image of the New York intellectuals’ and she scorns my endless ‘romance’ for the Sidney Hooks, Norman Podhoretzes, Lionel Trillings. What book did she read? My chapter ‘New York, Jewish and Other Intellectuals’ directly tackles the New York group, and questions their contribution and radicalism. I ponder why so many of the New York Jewish intellectuals ‘hastily beat a retreat’ from radicalism (pp. 85–96). I expressly take issue with their inflated reputations (pp. 100–06). Trilling’s writings are ‘casual and familiar’; Hook has produced no original or coherent
I evaluate public intellectual life, circumscribing my argument in several ways. With a generational grid, I survey younger thinkers born since 1940 who are products of American experience and schools; I also explicitly confine myself to writers of non-fiction—social, political and economic thinkers. I state emphatically that it is hardly a question of blame or personal qualities. ‘The proposition of a missing generation does not malign individuals. It is not a statement about personal integrity or genius’ (p. 4). None of this matters to Garafola; she reads critical analysis as a poison-pen letter. She might argue that my generational categories make no sense or that I should not restrict myself to non-fiction. She doesn’t bother.
Excluding novelists, visual artists, poets I see few younger social and political intellectuals with a public profile. Garafola counters with a list that begins, presumably, with her strongest candidate. She asks us first to ‘consider Martin Duberman’. A professor, he writes drama, cultural history, biography and a weekly newspaper column. Here is a younger public intellectual! That’s very nice, but Martin Duberman, almost 60 (b. 1930), is hardly a young intellectual. Americans are forever youthful, but this seems extreme.